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The Banyan

The combo of severe mental illness and homelessness is a disturbing problem in Western cultures and there’s much outcry over service shortages. In India, however, mental illness is still largely seen as a problem caused by evil spirits to be cured with magic, beatings and chains. Women with severe mental illnesses are often abandoned by their families without hospitals to go to, with no welfare cheques or social safety net, and little ability to help themselves while disabled in a heavily sexist society.

Battered, bruised, brutally abused, both physically and sexually, ignored by everybody, eating out of garbage bins and with no place to call home. This was the situation of Chennai’s homeless women with mental illness even just a decade ago. …
Vandana Gopikumar, then still a Master’s student of Social Work, came across a half-naked, mentally ill homeless woman in absolute distress on the road in front of her college. Nobody else seemed even to notice her. With the help of a close friend, Vaishnavi Jayakumar, she tried to find shelter for the woman. Mental health institutions and NGOs were reluctant to admit [her, and] left the idealistic duo disillusioned and the idea was born that they should do something about the problem themselves. … The Banyan started off as a shelter and transit home for homeless women for mental illness who had wandered from their homes across the country and ended up in the streets of Chennai. One of the [founding] duo’s core beliefs was that the women needed to receive timely treatment and to be rehabilitated in mainstream society. Twelve years later, after reaching out to over 1500 women, and successfully rehabilitating over 700, their beliefs have been vindicated.

As a grassroots effort, The Banyan needs (global) community support, including donations. One month of complete needs (medication, treatment, food, etc.) for a resident is Rs. 3000 or approx. $75 USD. Think about that, $75, less than the price of a pair of shoes, cares for a severely ill homeless woman for an entire month. Another alternative is the MOTI – Meals on Time Initiative. “A special 100% vegetarian meal” with “sweet and fruit for all our residents” costs Rs. 2500 or approx. $65 USD. The cost of a dinner for two at a nice restaurant could provide dinner for 400 women instead.

They outline other ways to help (mostly volunteering locally) including these: 7. Spread awareness on mental health issues at your school, college or workplace, and 8. Accept the mentally ill as individuals and as members of our society.

You can help with those in your own communities. It’s completely free.

Contact The Banyan

The Banyan

Sandra Kiume

Sandra Kiume is a mental health advocate. Along with contributing to World of Psychology, she blogs at Channel N about brain and behaviour videos, and is the founder of @unsuicide and Online Suicide Help. She lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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APA Reference
Kiume, S. (2018). The Banyan. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Aug 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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